The state of Louisiana granted a license to the owners of Harrah’s in New Orleans to operate the city’s only land-based casino, an agreement that doesn’t expire until 2024. That leaves plenty of time to craft a new deal that best advances the public interest.
But state lawmakers, a political class not typically known for acting quickly, are shoving a new deal for Harrah’s through the Legislature at lightning speed, ignoring big questions about the casino operator’s financial obligations to New Orleans and Louisiana.
That haste doesn’t serve the state’s citizens, who should pressure lawmakers to slow down and act more thoughtfully on an agreement that would last three decades and involve hundreds of millions of dollars.
The new terms being floated would extend Harrah’s monopoly as a land-based casino another 30 years, a lucrative prize. But even as Harrah’s executives broker another deal at the State Capitol, they’re suing the state to avoid paying millions in back taxes the Louisiana Department of Revenue says the casino owes. That revenue, $40 million by one estimate, includes money that’s supposed to go to a couple of key state institutions in New Orleans — the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and other state sports facilities.
Lawmakers shouldn’t approve a new arrangement with Harrah’s until that legal dispute is resolved. Doing a big business deal with someone who’s suing you doesn’t make much sense, and the public deserves some clarity about Harrah’s specific obligations to taxpayers before another agreement is inked.
A year ago, a state Senate committee approved a bill to extend Harrah’s state license, which gives it the right to be the only land-based casi…
Those obvious practicalities seemed lost on members of the state Senate’s Judiciary B Committee, who rubber-stamped the bill authorizing a new deal with Harrah’s. Senate President John Alario dismissed the idea of amending House Bill 544 to address concerns about the deal, arguing that changes would bounce the bill back to the House, where it could be derailed by skeptics.
But the Legislature is meant to be a deliberative body, and mulling over crucial sticking points of public policy is what we elect lawmakers to do.
The state Senate’s legislative gymnastics to avoid amending the bill are an exercise in cynicism — an embarrassment even by the legendarily low standards of the State Capitol.
Gamblers might be resigned to the notion that the house always wins, but Louisiana’s taxpayers shouldn’t have to accept a long-term deal with Harrah’s that doesn’t protect their interests.
Lawmakers should slow down this new deal with Harrah’s, and if it can’t be approved before this session runs out, there’s always next year.
The state’s citizens deserve better than the current HB 544, a roll of the dice Louisiana can’t afford.